Consumer Reports last month pulled its recommendation of the Porsche Taycan, Kia Niro EV and Audi E-Tron because of reliability issues with the trio of EVs. Though there were few headlines about the move, it’s significant news for a couple of reasons: Automakers don’t want to lose the organisation’s stamp of approval, and it’s an indication that EVs, containing fewer moving parts than gasoline-powered cars and supposedly simpler, are not necessarily trouble-free.
Jake Fisher, senior director of the Consumer Reports Auto Test Centre, told me that the change in status isn’t because CR is down on electric cars or electric powertrains. It’s more that automakers are in the midst of an extended bout of EV growing pains, he said.
The reliability issues are a result of automakers introducing lots of EVs in a short period, many of them on all-new platforms, like the Volkswagen ID.4, already delayed for America. The companies are also launching EVs with new technologies not related to the electric powertrain. In other words, automakers are taking bigger swings and adding more bells and whistles, so it’s probably inevitable that there will be some kinks to work out.
CR’s latest reliability survey seems to back that up. Fisher cites the Porsche Taycan as one example. CR said it doesn’t have enough data to give the car a reliability score, but it does assign predicted reliability scores, and based on the struggles of other EVs , CR pulled its Taycan recommendation.
“The issue is that Porsche doesn’t have [much history] with electric cars,” Fisher said, adding that making an EV isn’t as simple as “plucking out the motors” and switching powertrains, as Porsche is also making it on a new platform with other new technology.
The Taycan isn’t alone in this department, as CR also lowered its predicted ratings for the Mercedes-Benz EQC and the Mustang Mach-E. As for the Niro EV, some CR members reported problems with the electric motor, while some E-Tron owners had electrical system failures. Both Audi and Kia told CR they were fixing the issues.
More broadly, CR expects reliability to improve as automakers get more experience making EVs. Fisher pointed out that automakers have had over a century to refine internal combustion engines and improve reliability, yet most automakers have been doing full-electric for less than 10 years.
“We’re not saying that electric powertrains are going to be problematic,” Fisher said.
The EV that fared best in CR’s reliability surveys came from a company that does have EV experience stretching back decades: That would be GM and the Chevy Bolt. The Nissan Leaf also didn’t do too badly, likely because Nissan has been making it for almost a decade.
And then there is Tesla, which didn’t get a recommendation for the Model Y. Tesla has had a long head start with EVs, and in theory should be well ahead of the pack. It is in many ways, but build quality still hasn’t quite caught up.
“The strange thing about Tesla is that what’s really hurting them is the basic stuff,” Fisher said, like paint issues and problems with doors and tailgate latches.
Fisher said that Consumer Reports spent hours on the phone with Tesla CEO Elon Musk when CR was testing the Model 3, even prompting Tesla to do an over-the-air update to fix a brake issue. But like it has done with other publications, Tesla has gone quiet on communicating with CR, perhaps deciding that engaging with the organisation (or anyone else) simply isn’t worth it.
You can expect CR’s next reliability survey to be out around this time next year. Tesla will be on it again, along with the other EV makers. Maybe in that time automakers will have worked out a few more kinks.